The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd – Book Review

The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd – Book Review

The Posion Machine by Robert J. Lloyd

The Poison Machine
Hunt & Hooke Book Two

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London, 1679 — A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II, but London is still a viper’s nest of rumored Catholic conspiracies, and of plots against them in turn. When Harry Hunt — estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke — is summoned to the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk, he is at first relieved to get away from the place.

But in Norfolk, he finds that some Royal workers shoring up a riverbank have made a grim discovery — the skeleton of a dwarf. Harry is able to confirm that the skeleton is that of Captain Jeffrey Hudson, a prominent member of the court once famously given to the Queen in a pie. Except no one knew Hudson was dead, because another man had been impersonating him.

The hunt for the impersonator, clearly working as a spy, will take Harry to Paris, another city bedeviled by conspiracies and intrigues, and back, with encounters along the way with a flying man and a cross-dressing swordswoman — and to the uncovering of a plot to kill the Queen and all the Catholic members of her court. But where? When?

The Poison Machine is a nail-biting and brilliantly imagined historical thriller that will delight readers of its critically acclaimed predecessor, The Bloodless Boy.

Review by Julie

‘The Poison Machine’ is the follow up novel from Robert J. Lloyd, featuring Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke, Observator and Curator of Experiments respectively, from The Royal Society. We were introduced to them in ‘The Bloodless Boy’ and now re-enter their lives a year later. Whilst both stories stand alone, reading them in order will enable the reader to feel they’re already comfortable with the setting and lead characters.

Harry is a rising star at The Royal Society but becomes extremely embarrassed when a demonstration goes badly wrong. With his pride already dented, he is further humiliated when his peers later imbibe at a tavern and openly mock him. In a fit of pique and for a significant higher salary, Harry accepts an offer of employment from the Board of Ordnance and is sent to the Norfolk Fens. There he views the remains of Captain Jeffrey Hudson who had become known as ‘the Queen’s Dwarf’ in the court of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. Whilst it was known Captain Hudson had been captured by Barbary pirates after his exile from France, he was apparently alive and happily living in Oakham after a ransom was paid for the release of English captives. Whoever had taken his identity must have realised he was about to be unmasked, so disappeared. It therefore becomes Harry’s task to find him.

Harry then meets a beautiful Italian duchesse who gives him an additional commission for which she promises to pay handsomely. Keen to claim this huge reward as well as tracking down the fake Hudson, Harry travels to Paris in the company of old Parliamentarian soldier,
Colonel Michael Fields.

As with his previous delve into the seventeen century, the author gives us many descriptive passages and much graphic detail. As the layers of the story unfold, Harry finds himself being used as a pawn in a dangerous diplomatic game and is dogged by deceit, conspiracy and
betrayal. We watch as he reflects on his own hubris and in particular, his treatment of Robert Hooke’s niece, Grace.

The author has again shown his skill at blending fact with fiction, particularly in relation to the experiences of Jeffrey Hudson. It is documented that he grew in height during the time he was enslaved despite being an adult when he was captured, so I enjoyed the author’s idea that he was replaced by a taller impostor.

The list of characters was helpful and I found myself referring back several times. The book is written in the third person and the past tense and divided into five parts, each with an epigraph; although I confess the quotations and their relevance were all rather too clever for this reader.

Anyone who enjoyed the first book or is a disciple of Tudor-Stuart fiction won’t be disappointed with this story. After a strong start, I got slightly bogged down but became totally engaged once Harry found himself in an almighty scrape in Paris. I award five well-deserved stars.

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Robert J. Lloyd

Robert J Lloyd

Robert J. Lloyd grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa (his parents worked in the British Foreign Service), and then in Sheffield, where he studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter but moving to film, performance, and installation.

His MA thesis on Robert Hooke and the ‘New Philosophy’, inspired the ideas and characters in Hunt & Hook series. He lives in Crickhowell in Bannau Brycheiniog. The Poison Machine is his second book, following on from The Bloodless Boy.

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